"My back hurts, Momma," my daughter moans for the umpteenth time. "It really hurts." I remind her to take some ibuprofen, to lay on her heating pad, to hang in there until we see the doctor tomorrow. She sighs a heavy sigh—not the "you are such an unbelievable idiot of a parent and I can't believe you are making me/won't let me do that" sigh I have grown accustomed to as of late, but a deeper, weightier "I'm tired and I'm in pain and it won't stop and I'm so very, very disappointed sigh" that can just about break a parent's heart.
It is certainly breaking mine.
A few too many standing front tucks appear to be the evil culprit, executed a week or two before Christmas. With state championships out of the way, her coaches were working up new skills, much to my daughter's delight. The tucks themselves felt fine, but shortly thereafter she began to notice her back was sore. Within a day or two, the muscles surrounding her spine in her lower back had contracted so tightly she looked like she had small loaves of bread under her skin.
Certain it was muscular, we took a heat/stretch/massage approach to healing, which seemed, at first, to be working. A night of playing tag with friends on New Year's Eve, however, caused them to seize right back up and we were faced with the question of what to do next. Massage therapy ensued with a local therapist who specializes in working with gymnasts. We were encouraged and hopeful.
We knew Bub would likely miss her first meet of the new year, and that proved to be true. But our hopes were that a little rest and a lot of prescribed stretching, combined with a couple visits to Jan, would have her back up and running by The Big Meet this coming weekend. Our hopes are proving to be mis-placed.
The new season had started off so well—after coming from behind last year to win the all-around title at the spring state championships, we were very excited to see what this year would hold. In her first four meets, she took one of the top two spots every time. We were thrilled—what a good experience for her, I thought. It will be great for her to see how well she can excel when given the opportunity. We went in to fall states with great expectations.
A rough vault (we could not for the life of us understand her score, though I will admit scoring for the vault appears to involve a lot of complex calculations and the correct alignment of the heavenly bodies) knocked her down to 4th place overall, but a spectacular beam routine gave her a third beam state championship in a row. She was disappointed, but she took it in stride. I was disappointed, but I did not.
We shook the dust off of states our feet and set our sights on the future. The Big Meet, an invitation-only select team event which Bub had made for the first time, was coming in January, and then the Buckeye Classic, and then States again. Plenty more opportunities to show 'em what she's got.
Or not, as it turns out.
Turns out, my daughter will display another set of skills at The Big Meet this weekend—a set of skills she has, unfortunately, had her fair share of opportunities to develop and hone.
To say it is a difficult thing to watch your child face disappointment is beyond understatement. As parents, we want so much for them to have the big win, the personal best, the positive experience. We want for them to know that "thrill of victory" and to spare them "the agony of defeat." If only we could. For our own sake, if nothing else.
I have wrestled for a month with my emotions over the outcome of states, over the back injury, over the probability that this may be her last season. I want so desperately for her to end on a high note, if ending is what proves to be necessary. I want for her to feel good about what she's accomplished, to have pride in her efforts, to know this time has been worth it. Sometimes, more often than I would like to admit, it is hard to remember that winning is not a necessary ingredient in the making of such an outcome.
This weekend, my daughter will show people what she's made of internally. She will attend The Big Meet and she will cheer her heart out for her friends. She will continue to rest and heat and stretch and will tell herself that every athlete has to overcome physical adversity, that every top gymnast has had to sit out for a season. She will handle her disappointment (because rest assured, she will be disappointed) with a grace and maturity that has been hard-won. And she will cultivate a deeper sense of who she is and what she's capable of in the process.
My daughter is learning what it means to persevere, to endure, to overcome.
And that, I remind myself, is worth infinitely more than winning.